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Interview: Enter the Oddworld of Lorne Lanning

Oddworld's chief Inhabitant talks to us about Stranger's Wrath, pissing off politicians and the future of games development

Lorne Lanning, the co-founder, president and creative director of Oddworld Inhabitants, could be said to be a model developer. Tall and athletic, when we meet him he's sporting a fine pair of black cowboy boots that match his precisely-trimmed goatee and slick haircut.

He swears like a trooper too and, unusually for a man who uses the word so much, doesn't tend to bullshit. As he runs us through a demo of Oddworld Stranger's Wrath, the latest Xbox addition to the notoriously quirky Oddworld series, he's adept at pointing out exactly what's brilliant about it - but he does it with such an engaging enthusiasm that we want to believe (almost) all of it.

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Lorne Lanning, co-founder, president and creative director at Oddworld Inhabitants

Honest to God, he was doing the voices of all the characters because we had the sound turned down to avoid distracting the hard-at-work around us. We might as well have had it turned up, because after ten minutes of Lanning's performance half the room was watching and chuckling along with Stranger's experiences in Oddworld's Wild West.

In a way, we should have expected it. The Oddworld games have always been a departure from the run-of-the-mill videogame production line fodder, with a sense of satirical humour and fascinatingly different visual style that has attracted an almost cultish band of fans.

Oddworld Stranger's Wrath is no different, setting its sights on the ironies of American history, the evils of prejudice and discrimination and the rape of the natural world - and the people within it - by big business.

But it's not just about the message. Stranger's Wrath is also an intriguing blend of third-person action and exploration with stealth built in, and first-person shooting using a unique 'live ammo' system that requires you to capture your own crazy ammo from the countryside. It's perfectly unhinged Oddworld stuff, with just the right amount of knowing humour to keep the whole thing from spinning out into a completely different dimension.

The Oddworld games aren't like other games, and Lorne Lanning isn't like other game developers. That means when we sat down to have a chat conversation often shot off at a tangent from the questions asked, but unvariably ended up on a topic far more interesting. Lanning's got some important views on the future of videogames, and whether you're into the Oddworld series or not, you have to read this interview.

Humour is certainly a very important aspect of your Oddworld games. How important do you see humour in videogaming as a whole?

Lorne Lanning: Well, if you're making a game like Halo, or a racing game, then I don't think humour's very important at all. But in the experiences that we've been trying to build, which are action-adventures where we sometimes intentionally want the action to slow down and to have you become more immersed in the world, then we feel the humour's extremely important. If we're slowing down on one front, we better be paying you off on another. If we can make the game funny, and if the characters you're talking to are giving you witty, sarcastic, wise-ass responses then you're more encouraged to talk to them.

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It helps with the pacing too, and keeps you engaged. Even if you're not interested in a particular aspect of the game at one moment, if the humour is witty enough then it'll keep you believing in what's happening and give you the motivation to keep going.

Also, we've always felt that games aren't just for guys. We believe that they could be for virtually everyone. We haven't achieved that yet, but I think we're heading there. Bringing more entertainment value to games is a critical part of that. There's a difference between challenge value and entertainment value, and I think a lot of games today are lacking entertainment value.

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